“My House: Welcome: Go Away” by Jaclyn Watterson
Here is the body, and no way out. It comes with legs you will always think pucked at the knees, a penchant for alcoholism, and no tail in spite of the imagination it houses. Also, skin others say is good.
You don’t like sweets, only picked at childhood birthday cakes. Others didn’t like this. Others, with other bodies, threatening.
I’ve lived here since before birth.
But I’ve made changes: took down the wallpaper in the spare room, tore up the linoleum to expose the original wood floors in the kitchen.
Sometimes I pretended to leave, but then the apple or pear trees out back fell, and I came back to bury them.
I am afraid. Laying in bed, flat, my toes so far away. I concentrate, but I cannot feel the contours of individual toes. What if they have gotten away, or melted? If I do not have toes, I will not be able to walk.
Toes? Are you there?
I cannot get out of bed to check. Because of the possibility I forgot to lock the door last night. What if someone got in to my house? Is it breathing I hear in the kitchen, or am I alone, safe?
I am afraid that when I am older, I will not be able to move at all. Because already I cannot do stairs. The problem is down. They waver, leer, and laugh. My ears feel heavy, like I’m wearing my mother’s earrings, and my hands feel like they belong to somebody’s uncle.
I look down, and the stairs scream up.
A man I know spoke to me about how hard we both had worked. And I thought, Hard? We? Worked? And I came home, climbed the stairs to my apartment. Work? Worked?
Climbing the stairs was almost work. Halfway up I wanted to stop. Couldn’t. We worked.
That was yesterday, and perhaps—like my mother or somebody’s uncle—you’ll say I’m overreacting. But I did go to the top of the stairs this morning. And they wavered, leered, and laughed. Screamed.
I called in to work. Took time, a sick day. But tomorrow?
Tomorrow a man comes to my apartment. Talks about how hard we both have worked. And I scream. Push him down the stairs. Leer and laugh, but do not waver.
Because I am afraid that when I am older, I will not be able to move at all.
The living room is sacred in that it resembles a kidney.
Once she wrote a story about a woman who needed her boyfriend’s kidney. Her writer friends said, But you can live with just one kidney.
She thought, Yes, but she, my beloved character, needs his kidney.
And then she left her own boyfriend, who might have given a kidney, had he known.
But in the living room, before she left, she used to pretend to be inside her own kidney. And she wondered if what was going on inside her kidney resembled what was going on inside the living room. For example, inside her kidney was a tiny kidney woman face down on the couch, trying to see how long she could keep her breath buried before it gave out?
You are not welcome in my home.
None of you.
I live here, and I cannot have you see my things, or touch them. My brown speckled mug—what if you tried to drink from it? My sagging quilt—what if you tried to sleep under it? My skin—what if you spit on it?
What if you see my sword, hanging on the wall above the bookshelf? And what if I take down the sword and kill you with its dull blade? Your blood will seep into my floors, and I don’t have a good sponge, never use harsh chemicals. I have no way to clean your blood from my floors, and so you are not welcome in my home.
And my blood. Pouring out of my eyes, and the parts of my face I’ve removed. My blood is pouring out and staining my floors. I would be embarrassed, for you to come in and see what a mess I’ve made.
And their blood. People we cannot know.
Don’t come in.
The man she lived with spoke of compromise.
Gouge: to form a hole, space, or abyss by digging into a surface and removing all traces of material.
Following definitions, she looked up the weather in many faraway cities. But the combination of dew point, daylight, and temperature in the city she had left was perfect. The combination dictated a return.
There would be no compromise.
The bathroom is the safest room in the house.
Wood floors and a porcelain tub. And I painted the mirror black, in case there is someone in the living room. If he comes into the bathroom, he will not see his face or my own in the mirror, and he will think he’s made a mistake.
Under the mirror, the sink is cracked.
I cannot let you near the sink.
I moved in six months ago when my grandmother died and left me the farm. I moved in six years ago when I accepted the new job in the new city, and left my childhood. I moved in when I was six, after my mom left my dad and took me with her. I moved in six days ago, when I left a man.
I didn’t take anything with me.
I’ve lived here always, never left.
My toes are still lost in the bedroom. And now, I’m not sure I feel my ears. Is he breathing in the living room?
Trace the contours of the ears, left then right. Stick a finger, a Qtip, a pin into the canal. Too afraid. The pin never makes it. Can’t know what it would reveal.
What can a pin say about a body? No way out.
I’ve learned not to talk about it.
A breeze wisps in, and the person inside pretends the room, the house, the body are permanent. Health is a natural condition, like clean sheets and Tide.
Afternoons are wont to fade, but they grow back, and mornings are everpresent, always ready to burst through the door and declare solitude a ruse or a sign of ill health, the bed an indulgence.
I used to live with you, and you asked me for a character.
I told you it was too late for that.
You’re a writer, you said.
And I thought about how we lived together, how sometimes I saw your penis, red from rubbing, or dripping in the shower.
You just don’t want to give me a character, you said.
I wanted to say, There aren’t any characters anymore. Minute details aren’t true, and pronouns are lies or place holders.
Now you were clipping your toenails. You let them fall to the bedroom floor, and I kept from screaming.
We lived together, and I could not give you a character.
This, this is it: your character.
See, I want to give. But always I come to a sentence that ends it.
I use my fingers everyday, and sometimes I bite or burn them. Sometimes I use them to find inconsistencies on my face (with the mirror painted over, I cannot see inconsistencies), and then peel them off.
Sometimes blood from the space between the face and the inconsistencies slides under my nails. And I let it settle there.
My fingers, they have cause for mutiny. One day soon, they’ll organize, plan. But in the end, they’ll tear themselves and me apart.
No one’s getting out.
The bathroom accommodates a window. In the other house, there was a mold problem. Here, the window keeps such intruders out.
But if it keeps the mold out, the window lets other intruders in. It’s across from the tub, above the toilet.
I cannot undress in the bathroom. I used to shower at the Y, now I don’t leave the house.
It’s right for a woman to have girlfriends, the mother and grandmother said. Boyfriends, even.
Here in this house, you spend too much time alone. Go to the city. There, you will meet someone, and then you’ll understand this house.
In this way, they disposed of the girl. Because she was a good and interesting character, and went to the city.
Were they right, could friends have helped?
Not the ears, but the mouth. Yes, finger your mouth. Surely it has answers. Your teeth, always professionally cared for when you were young. Now you neglect them: this one here, this molar, it is sore. Keep going, keep going. The tongue is long, but the mouth gives way to the throat. The weight of your hand, and then your wrist enters, your fingers, and then the rest of your hand. Find a large cavity: the inside of your chest. Larger than you expected, and though your forearm stays lodged in your mouth, your hand wanders off and is lost.
The people all want a house, so they can prove their stability to one another.
They insist, through their houses, current or eventual: I get out of bed every morning. I refrain from breaking things in anger. I love the others I live with—every day. I budget my money, because I know what I will want tomorrow, next month, next year.
But the house also insures instability, makes it safe to indulge in.
In the basement, the man can scream, the mother hoard and break the child’s things. The child can scrawl on the walls, pretend not to hear the father calling, crying, begging. The grandmother can show the child her body, wrinkled and bruised, and say—This is how you learn.
And in the yard, the family can bury anything they want.
There are holes: ways in. But you stick a pinky in your nose and never see it again, a thumb carefully inserted in the anus runs off giggling. You’re losing your body to your body. Bulging eyes and laughing. You eat noodles, tell them, if you see any fingers in there, tell them I need them.
Your tongue has retreated, down to your belly. Replace the tongue with a toe, but your mouth is angry and swallows the toe. So full you can’t eat, and most of your body is inside itself, no way out.
No way out.
But you have good skin, and rarely indulge in sweets.